Sunday, October 18, 2009

NYC's Best Cup Of Coffee? Stumptown.

And lucky for me... it's just around the corner.

The Chelsea neighborhood of NYC is known for it's interesting cafés and often exploratory restaurant "experiments".... but the coffee has never been in question. While many people know about "Café Grumpy".... the fantastic coffee hang on 20th Street, the midtown faithful are now discovering what may likely be the best cup of coffee in New York... Stumptown Roasters.

First you should know, this isn't your normal shop. The folks at Stumptown (a business born and loved in Portland, Oregon) take coffee seriously. So seriously, they travel the world searching for the beans that will make the difference in your cup... and they do so with a fair trade mentality that most companies could only dream of. I'm not talking about big "corporate" trips with high level executives that book rooms at the Hilton. I'm talking about people who cap out under trees in the Kenyan bush. Those guys.

Now if fair trade and sustainability is your thing, I suggest you spend some time on the Stumptown website and learn about their endeavors... you'll be impressed. It's hard not to become a fan of their mission.

As great and important as this work is... it would likely be overlooked if it all resulted in a cup of nasty coffee. But this isn't the case.

The store itself is nestled in the front of the newish and hip "Ace Hotel" in Chelsea. The Ace Hotel is a funky, NYC boutique hotel that delivers all of the style and substance you'd expect to find in Midtown Manhattan. Crazy cool art, a refined and uber cool lobby (this is where you enjoy your coffee... as the shop itself has no seating).... and a gaggle of hipsters who have planted their stake there to profess their love for what makes NYC great.

The coffee you ask?

The experts at Stumptown don't use a brewer like our friends at Starbucks to make a cup of coffee. All "drip" style coffee is made in large french press pots, and then quickly transferred into vacuum pumps to keep the coffee hot and fresh. Spectacular. The espresso is ground fresh and made in a traditional pump machine... and cranks out quality draws. This is good stuff.

By the way... if you haven't had a cup of french press in a while... make owe it to yourself to make a cup. Having been addicted to french press coffee on and off for the last 20 years, I'm still convinced that this is truly the only way to really experience the subtly of a perfectly roasted bean. But beware, once you get hooked you'll have a hard time getting off of it. It's the crack of the coffee world. More about making french press at home below (thanks Stumptown).

The store sells a variety of it's coffees, with description cards to tell you about the origin and complexity of the roast. The people who work behind the counter know a lot about each varietal, so don't be afraid to ask.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Stumptown. It's always great when the product exceeds the hype.

Here's to one terrific cup of coffee.


18 W 29th St.
New York, NY 10001
6 am to 8 pm daily

How to prepare the perfect press pot at home

Using a press pot (aka French Press) is the easiest and best way to get truly excellent coffee at home. The keys to getting good results are: using high quality, fresh beans; grinding the coffee correctly; using clean equipment; timing the process.

You’ll need a Press Pot, coffee, a grinder, a spoon, a timer, and cups (and thermal carafe if preparing more than fits in the cups).

Step 1

Grind coffee

It is important that the coffee be ground coarse and that it be ground with a quality burr (rather than blade) grinder. By grinding the coffee coarse, you’re allowing for a slower and more even extraction which results in a fuller bodied and more nuanced cup. Blade grinders chop the coffee rather than grinding it, resulting in uneven particle size and unpredictable particle size. This results in uneven extraction, which causes coffee that has increased bitterness and which is not true to the true flavour profile of the coffee. In addition, the lack of consistency in particle size results in inconsistent and unpredictable results from pot to pot.

Step 2

Add coffee to pot

You’ll need one tablespoon of coffee for every 4oz of water. In other words, if you have a 16oz press pot, you’ll want to use 4 tablespoons of coffee. Feel free to adjust this amount based on your own personal tastes. Make sure the pot is clean and dry.

Step 3

Add water

You should bring the water just to a boil (electric kettles are great at this) and then let it cool for about 45 seconds. Then pour it aggressively into the pot so that it saturates the grounds. The key is to saturate all the grounds evenly. You should move the stream around as you pour to facilitate this. Do not fill the pot entirely. With many fresh coffees you will see significant expansion of the coffee in a sort of “foam” at the top of the liquid once you add water. This is known as “bloom” and is the result of the off-gassing of CO2 from the coffee. Adding too much water can result in a very messy countertop.

Step 4

Start timer

You’re going to want to have a timer that counts down from 4 minutes and has an alarm at 4 minutes. It’s very important that you use a timer to guarantee high quality coffee.

Step 5

Stir pot

After 1 minute, you should stir the grounds in the pot. If you need to add water to top off the pot, make sure it is again right below boiling. Stirring the pot guarantees even and optimal extraction of all the coffee. In addition, it breaks down the “bloom” and allows you to combine the correct amount of water and coffee without spilling all over the place.

Step 6

Put press/top on pot

Make sure you line up the spout and the corresponding exit in the lid.

Step 7

Press the pot

At exactly 4 minutes, you should push the press (slowly) into the pot to force all grounds to the bottom. You might have to press and then release and repeat to do this. Do not crush it with all your might – use some finesse.

Step 8

Pour the coffee

You need to do this as soon as you’ve pressed the pot. If you’re making more coffee than you can fit into a cup and want to hold some for later, pour the coffee into a thermal carafe. Do not simply leave the coffee in the press pot – it will get nasty quickly. If you want to avoid any stray grounds and sediment, you can pour the coffee through a mesh basket filter.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Little Did I Know… The Bitches of Manganaro’s

Evil Is Lurking On 9th Avenue... So Watch Your Step.

It’s a beautiful Saturday August afternoon in Manhattan. Not just beautiful… spectacular. 75 degree temps, clear skies… the smell of food shops in the air. I love this place.

Even though I had already smoked a 7 pound chicken this morning, I yearned to escape from my midtown digs at 28th and 6th and venture out to find some, well…. meat. Sausages, flank steak… anything fresh will do. Great butchers abound in this city. This will be fun.

Since my second home “Faicco’s” in the West Village is closed today (family on vacation one week a year) I decided to venture west…. to a place I had heard much about… Esposito’s Pork Store, a fixture on 9th avenue forever. It was time to pay them a visit.

Let me tell you now that this post isn’t about the nice people and good sausage at Esposito’s.

When I arrived by cab, I hopped out and took a look at the block… and realized I could use a sandwich. It was 2:30pm and the stomach was growling. I had some time to kill. I needed something, since I didn’t have a chance to get my bagel on this morning. Maybe I would get lucky?

I walked down the block about 50 feet and encountered a gigantic sign that read “Mangenero’s”. The spiffy looking restaurant had a menu out front with all of the Italian hero sandwiches listed…. Chicken parm, salami, ham, etc…. you get the picture. There was a nice crowd there for mid-afternoon, and I figured it would be hard to go wrong there.

About 10 feet past this store was “Manganaro Grosseria Italiano”…. an old school grocery and deli, that had charm and history… literally since the 1800’s. I had hit the jackpot. This is where I would lunch. It looked very familiar, but I had never been there. This is exciting.

I quickly entered into an empty space… long and narrow, and noticed 2 woman and an elderly customer in the back. Taken by the nostalgia and feel of the place, I quickly pulled out my camera and snapped a picture of the front counter… a shot that looked as if it had been dressed by a Hollywood set designer. Green shelves, pieces of meat, boxes of pasta. I am in heaven.

Then it happened.

“Don’t do it”, screamed a woman from the rear of the store.

I wasn’t sure if in fact she was yelling at me, as I was hidden partially by a cabinet in the storefront. But then it happened again.

“I’m telling you don’t even think about it”, she shouted.

In about 4 seconds, the two irate Italian woman had bolted to the front of the store as if they were training to run the 50 yard dash for Italy in the next Olympics.

“I’m sorry”, I said. “I didn’t know you had a no photo policy.”

“Photos are for customers,” she snapped. “And I don’t see any food in your mouth”.

I then tried to explain to her that as I was making my way to the back of the store, I had stopped to take a photo.

“Yea, yea… you just stick with that story….. I know your kind”, she remarked.

“My kind?... because I write a food blog and I love to talk about great places to eat?”, I said.

“I knew it… your one of those bloggatweets people…. whatever you are. You don’t care about people or food… you just steal everything”.

Well folks, at this point it is clear to me that these two crazy Italian woman are clearly out of their minds. Here I am with an appetite, my wallet, an appreciation for their store… and I am being verbally abused by both of these insane, abusive, horrible human beings. I just want a freaking sandwich. What the hell is going on.

“I was just in the neighborhood to buy some meat on the corner and thought I would walk down….”, I said.

And then, it hit me. I had seen this store before. Bourdain. No Reservations. Of course. The place next door. The sandwich feud. This was all making sense. These two delis have been feuding for decades, and of course these idiots think I give a shit.

“I tell you what, come take a look while I delete this photo from my phone, and I’ll be on my way”, I said.

“You can shove that phone up your ass for all I care. Where are your manners? What do you care about us? All you people do is take, take… where is hello? Please?”, she said.

Please keep in mind, all I did was come in for a sandwich, and I snapped a pic on my iPhone. At this point, I am trying not to go postal on these two idiots.

About this time another guy entered the store, and began to look around. It was obvious he had never been there before. He was wearing a “I Love Shea” t-shirt.

“What do you want Shea???”, she yelled at him.

“Uh, I am just looking…”, he remarked.

“Right, Another one. There’s the door”, she said.

From the street his friend exclaimed, “I told you not to go in the store… they are crazy bitches who would spit on you…. They are the laughing stock of the neighborhood.”

About this time, I can’t help myself. I simply burst into laughter. I have to be on some type of Candid Camera show.

But I wasn’t.

“Have a good day, ladies. I’ll find lunch elsewhere”, I remarked.

“You do that, liar. I know your kind…. we don’t want you here”, she yelled.

And with that, I exited the building.

So I guess the moral of the story is, unless you love being abused and crapped on by people who you are trying to give your money to, stay away from Manganaro Grosseria Italiano.

Judging by the large, happy crowd next door, I would recommend the Manganaro HeroBoy place I passed on. Next time, I’ll follow the crowd, delicious smells and common sense….. and not my nostalgic instincts.

After all, I just came in for a sandwich.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

BAGEL WATCH: Pick-A-Bagel Rocks

As Bagels Go, This Neighborhood Gem Continues To Shine

I was recently privy to an argument about a bagel chain that was planning on moving into Manhattan to set up shop.

On one side, several people who had enjoyed the bagels abroad (like, uh, in Ohio somewhere) were glad to know they would have a familiar bagel in the city. Please note: I love when those who are not exactly connected to the NYC food scene try and convince NYC foodies that their local chain food can take over Manhattan (Chick-Fil-A not included, of course).

On the other side of the fence, were the New Yorkers who were basically begging them not to come... as a courtesy.

Think about it. Moving to New York to open a bagel shop that is part of a "chain" is like moving to Mexico City and opening a Taco Bell.

Case in point, my bagel shop of the day, Pick-A-Bagel, on 3rd and 23rd. A local gem that cranks out one of the Top 5 bagels in New York City, bar none. (Insert your Top 5 list here).

Now you should know, I love my bagels. I am not the biggest H and H guy in the world, having tasted the incredible bagels served by Tal Bagel (have you had the flat bagels?)... but I love the fact that so many shops in NYC actually make their bagels in house. This is the case at Pick-A-Bagel.

Additionally, these guys can really dress the thing. I'll leave the lox and stuff to my Hebrew brethren... (I just don't have the smoked fish for breakfast thing happening mentally yet) and focus on cream cheese, as well as my fave, the bacon/egg and butter.

If you have spent the last minute reading this, you are one of those people who know that all bagels are not created equal. There are bland bagels, stale bagels, tough bagels... blah, blah, blah.

And then, there are good NYC bagels. Warm or hot.... crusty and crunchy on the outside and chewy perfect on the inside.

This would again, be Pick-A-Bagel.

What sets them apart?

They have a killer assortment of cream cheeses, etc... but who else on the planet sells BACON CREAM CHEESE?

Not kidding. Bacon. Cream. Cheese. And if you can't stomach that, they also have TOFU Cream Cheese. I can't make this up.

So there you have it, Fork New York's Bagel Pick of the Day, Pick-A-Bagel.

(and if you don't like bagels, you can get loaded at the pub next door)

297 3rd Ave
(between 22nd St & 23rd St)
New York, NY 10010
(212) 686-1414

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Traveling New York City

Why Hit Europe When You Can Hop In A Cab?

Those of us lucky enough to live in New York know one thing. No matter where you are from, where you have been, or where you want to go, you can almost certainly duplicate any international experience on the island of Manhattan.

On this day in New York, I awoke to find an cool, overcast morning... begging for a day trip somewhere. I usually make an obligatory journey to the West Village (Faicco's, Murrays, etc...) to load up on crunchy aged gouda and parsley and cheese sausage for the grill.... but on this day, I ventured into SoHo where some of the cities best boutique food shops live.

While at this point I could post a list of places to visit that would resemble the yellow pages, I have decided to spend the summer focusing the blog on the secret gems that make New York the greatest food city in the world.

Stop #1?........ one of my favorite bakeries... Once Upon A Tart.

Once Upon A Tart is located on Sullivan Street, just south of Houston, and is spectacular.

Not only do they bake their amazing tarts, muffins and breads on premise... they do it in such simple style, you would easily think you were shopping in the Marais District in Paris. Unlike many bakeries who flood their counters with 100 varieties of good things, Once Upon A Tart uses the less is more approach of "we'll sell you 20 things, and everything you put in your mouth will be extrodinary."

And thats what they do.

On this morning, I choose not to buy a perfect pork, pesto and friseé baguette, homemade madeline or raspberry scone... but a toasty bruschetta layered brushed with fresh tomato compote, thinly sliced rosemary potatoes and roma tomotoes, topped with fresh mozerella.

With a freshly drawn double espresso in hand, I sat in one of the tiny bistro chairs out front and patiently waited for my wife to exit the upscale yarn shop next door. And I waited. And I waited.

Then I couldn't wait anymore... and began to devour what was easily one of the best savory treats I had eaten in recent memory. God I love New York.

The beauty of SoHo and the Village in general is that these shops are more the norm than you would think... and these type of culinary masterpieces can be found in about a 5 minute walk in any direction. But if you are looking for that sweet and savory fix, this is your place.

So there you have it, my first installment of FORK NEW YORK'S Summer in the City Series.... Once Upon A Tart.

I'll see you there.

Once Upon A Tart
135 Sullivan Street
NYC, NY 10012

Open everyday until 7pm, Sunday until 6pm.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Heat Up The Grill

It's Time To Cook With Some Flavor!

Summer is here in NYC.

At least it feels like it. And even though I have been snow-grilling all winter, I am breaking out my favorite recipes and beginning to incorporate my grill into my everyday kitchen recipes.

I know what you are saying…. why is a restaurant blog telling me to stay home and cook?

Well, truth be told, sometimes you just can’t get certain dishes in the city. Sure, there are several joints that do “shrimp and grits”…. but not like this. For this recipe to work, you need to enhance the savory nature of the grits (hence the cream) and create a layer of flavor with the bacon fat. The entire thing is very easy.

I’ll resume my restaurant reviews next week, but in the meantime, enjoy this recipe… one of my favorite Sunday morning brunch treats.

Grilled Shrimp and Charleston Style Cheese Grits

1 cup old fashion grits
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup butter
1 cup half and half
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 pound extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 slices bacon, chopped into pieces
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 cup thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts
1 large clove garlic, minced

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add the grits and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well with a whisk and thicken. Slowly add half and half, and then heavy cream, stirring all the while. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cook the grits until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese. Keep covered until ready to serve.

Rinse the shrimp and pat dry. Coat shrimp with olive oil, season with creole seasoning (or at least salt and pepper), and place on medium hot grill until just pink. Remove and bring inside. Fry the bacon in a large skillet until browned and crisp, then drain on a paper towel. Add the shrimp to the bacon grease in the skillet and sauté over medium heat just until they heat through, about 2 minutes. Do not overcook! Immediately add the lemon juice, parsley, green onions, and garlic. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Pour the grits into a serving bowl or serving platter. Pour the shrimp mixture over the grits. Garnish with the bacon bits.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

BLT Market: New York's Best Brunch?

Bring Your Appetite and Your Visa Card, You'll Need Them Both

The reasons I love BLT Market may be the reasons some hate it.

It’s a tad snobby, a bit touristy, a smidge stuffy and certainly expensive. But if it’s a terrific brunch you’re looking for, you’d be hard pressed to find a better morning than the one that can be had on the edge of Central Park at the Ritz Carlton New York.

My brunch visit to BLT Market was really by mistake, as I was under the silly impression that the restaurant would also offer its standard menu on a Sunday. Not the case. On Sunday, these seats come at a premium, and you’re gonna shell out some decent coin to hang with the big boys. The good news is that you’ll walk away happy having spent your monthly Starbucks budget on what is simply delicious food.

How much are we talking? The brunch at BLT Market will run you anywhere from $38 on up, depending on what you have in mind. The basic omelets, benedicts, etc…. all start here, and our friends at the Ritz add a surcharge for upgrades if you wish to step up to the hanger steak and fancy salads…. which is what we did. Gazing at what our neighbors were ordering, we couldn’t help ourselves. We did the salad thing… but more on that in a minute.

First, the baker. If in fact you choose to order the bread basket, you better be hungry. The problem here is that everything tastes so good, you won’t be nibbling, you’ll be inhaling. This is what happens when expert bakers send warm baskets of croissant, madeleines, danish, muffins, scones, baguettes and pound cake to the table. It is a beautiful pile of goodies and worthy of the trip alone.

Toss in almond brioche french toast, perfect fritattas, buttermilk pancakes, smoked salmon, a decadent croque monsieur and a hamburger the size of a Volvo, and you’ve now got a delimma of just what in the hell to order. The good news is there really is no bad choice.

Back to the salads. My companion ordered a lobster salad, piled about a foot high with freshly poached lobster, watercress, tomato, avaoado, etc… in a homemade buttermilk dressing. She didn’t speak much, as time gabbing would interrupt the assault on the dish. I understood. She was happy happy.

My salad was a crisp, fresh ceasar salad of romaine hearts on top of what was easily the largest piece of chicken I’ve ever seen on a plate. The chicken paillard was pounded delightfully thin, and covered not a plate, but a platter. The warm, lemony chicken proved to be the perfect partner to the salad, and sure enough the dish was just terrific. Everything about it was fresh and homemade… there was care going into the preparation of these dishes and it showed.

Don’t think food is the only thing at BLT that is dressed to impress. The meyer-lemon ginger mimosa was light and refreshing, as well as the pomegranate salsa bloody mary. Sure, these will set you back another $15 bones or so, but hey, you just spent $48 on a salad. Let it go.

I guess by now you can tell I like the food here…. and who wouldn’t. It is everything you look for in the perfect brunch and more. It just costs a small fortune.

So with this knowledge in hand, I approach BLT Market as such.

This can’t be my regular brunch spot… just as I can’t smoke Cuban cigars everyday. But when I am looking for something special… a treat…. this is the place.

If you are going to shell out serious dollars for a serious meal, you expect it to be good… and BLT Market is just plain good. So with any meal or service, you feel good in the afterglow when you believe you got what you paid for.

Let’s tally it up, shall we?

The room: Nebraska farm house meets Martha Stewart with a bucket of yellow paint. Charming and odd, in a good way. Kudos.

The service: Steady and polite, if not a hair slow at times… but professional. Reminded me of just about any Parisian joint on a Sunday morning.

The setting: At the foot of 6th Ave at Central Park couldn’t be better for a post-brunch stroll or carriage ride. Or, hang a right and walk to the Apple Store.

The food: Flawless. This is the level of fare you’d expect from a BLT property, and especially one in the Ritz. I’ll be back.

BLT Market
* American
* 1430 6th Ave, New York 10019
(At Central Park S)
* Phone: (212) 521-6125

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bourbon Street Bar and Grille: A True Louisiana Disaster


It wasn’t long ago when I sat in my living room on a Sunday morning and exclaimed to my wife… “there is a Louisiana place opening up, and I think this one has a chance to be good.... the chef looks like he is from New Orleans!”

My wife responded, “Please don’t do this…. you know how this turns out. How many times have we been down this road?”

She was right. I had just read that Bourbon Street Bar and Grille (bad name) was opening on restaurant row, and that a chef from New Orleans was in the kitchen. But instead of racing down, I used amazing restraint… I waited for them to get their act together. And waited. And waited.

Until last week. Mardi Gras. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to smell the smells, hear the music, drink the drinks. It was time to head to W. 46th Street and have my first experience at Bourbon Street. Their online ad said “Mardi Gras Celebration… Boiled Crawfish, Jambalaya, Music, etc….”

So I hopped in a cab and away I went, LSU attire and all. It was late afternoon.

Walking into this place, you think, “holy crap, look at this space.” I mean, it is massive… decorated with black iron and dark wood, a massive bar and great furnishings. Someone spent some serious coin on this buildout, which I was hoping meant that the same attention had been taken to the back of the house.

We sat down, and then…. it all went bad.

The music, well, no Neville Brothers. It was the Jonas Brothers.

I ordered a hurricane, which tasted like a batch of bad kool-aid with a shot of rum.

And I ordered the “crayfish”, which came to the table (7 of them, baby sized) swimming in a pool of nasty juice, with pieces of sausage, bay shrimp and corn on the cob that had been chopped into bite sized chunks.

My heart sank and my poor wife stared at me, her eyes welling with true compassion and the words “I told you so” tightly trapped behind her lips.

“Let me know how you like these,” said the server, who had problems pronouncing just about anything remotely Cajun on the menu. “We have a new chef who has never really cooked these, so he is interested to hear what you think.”

Having tasted one taste of these putrid, overcooked, nasty smelling crawfish, I told her politely, “if he’d like to know how to cook these, or anything else on this menu, have him grab a coke and some over to the table. I’d be happy to fill him in on how these are supposed to taste, as well as all of these other dishes.”

And it wasn’t just the crawfish. The menu had some bizarre items as well… and then, basically, just gave up. It was an array of dishes I would never see in Louisiana… or anywhere. When I asked for a shrimp poboy (listed on their website) I was informed they didn't make them anymore.

"I guess they were not very popular," she said. "Wow," I said.

So much for the New Orleans chef. I learned from our clueless server that he had left the restaurant, and was no longer affiliated with Bourbon Street, nor were his recipes. It was making perfect sense, as I could have had a more authentic experience eating the Cajun feast at TGIFridays.

But sitting in this fantastic space, I couldn’t help but think to myself…. what if this place really had great food. Forget the gimmicks and garbage on your menu… it is obvious that the bar business is your bread and butter. What if you had a menu like George’s in Baton Rouge…. amazing poboys, gumbos, red beans…. just solid staples. Or Mother’s in New Orleans. Killer sandwiches, simple blue plate specials. Make it authentic. God forbid you actually have a menu that could be compared to the legendary Uglesich's, that closed a few years ago, after nearly 80 years in the business.

I also wondered if the management knew that a menu like that would greatly reduce their labor cost and also give them a greater margin with their food cost. And oh yea, would give them great food.

I know, because I ran a restaurant with the exact same menu as a Mother's, and operated at a food cost of nearly 23%. And, we often had an hour wait to get a table.

So, friends at Bourbon Street…. before you are death-watched, before you begin stiffing your vendors, before you start looking for more money…. I am offering you this…. an OPEN INVITATION to let me help you fix your mess.

I will gladly come in, look at your kitchen, access your current menu (this I have already done, and it is a mess), and give you a tight, delicious, authentic menu that will resonate with any person who has ever traveled to Louisiana.

Having owned 2 restaurants and consulting on several others, this is an offer you should really consider before dismissing. I don’t want anything in return. I’m just sick and tired of watching people throw away this kind of investment because they didn’t know what the hell they were doing in the kitchen. So suck it up, realize your problem, and get some help. And it doesn’t have to be me…. just get someone who has operated a Louisiana kitchen… and rethink what your menu “has” to be. You’d be surprised at how simple a menu can be when authenticity is at the core of every bite. Keep it simple.

What will happen?

The word of mouth on the street will be that Bourbon Street has fantastic food. That the poboys taste like those at Domilise’s… or George’s…. or Maspero.

This isn’t hard food to prepare or serve to the masses. But if you want to really live up to your name…. you’ve got to quit pretending you know what you are doing and ask for some help.

So, another Mardi Gras passes, and I am left in the streets of Chelsea missing my Louisiana once again. I quietly wander into the kitchen, put on a pot of rice and contemplate what’s for dinner. Maybe some of this shrimp and okra gumbo in my freezer? Maybe some shrimp etouffee? Perhaps some grits and ham?

Whatever the choice, I am comfortable in the fact that in New York City…. the best creole or Cajun food to be found, is in my own kitchen. I just wish I had some competition.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Center Cut: An Explosion of Average

Expecting More, A Night That Resulted in Blah

Unlike other bloggers and food reviewers, I’ve never been a Jeffrey Chodorow hater. Sure, our favorite convicted felon has had a few bombs, but he has also had a few spots that remain popular in the city which in this day and age is an accomplishment. Not that I am a huge China Grill fan (my last visit uncovered one of the worst meals I have had since I moved to NYC), but I do adore the plantain fried rice at Asia de Cuba and have had many a fun night dancing away at Rum Jungle in Las Vegas.

So when I venture into a Chodorow spot these days, I enter with an open mind and neutral palate. My last experience at a China Grill Management store was the newish “Center Cut” at the Empire Hotel…. on Valentines Day.

Having owned 2 restaurants, I am big on details. Let’s start with a greeting and the girl at the door.

The week prior to my reservation, which was early (before 7), I was called not once, but twice to confirm I was coming, and that I WOULD BE ON TIME. Both times, I said “of course”, and sure enough, that evening, I arrived 5 minutes early for the rezo.


Once we did get a table, we encountered a friendly waitperson who was there physically, but not mentally. It was clear that she would rather be on a date herself on Valentine’s Day… so we got a strange vibe from her all evening. This was clearly a person who would rather be someplace else.

Regarding the food, I found all of our dishes average and sometimes a smidge better than average. The problem is, nothing was wow.

The problem with that, is NYC is wow. Restaurants with longevity in the city are wow. Wait staffs are wow. The food is wow. The night is wow.

Great food, staff and ambiance can often makeup for miscues at the door and long waits… but on this night, it was apparent that retribution on this level would not be mine.

I won’t describe each and every bite of the evening, but I will walk you through the following:

The Bread: Fresh Popovers… well prepared and quite good.

Salads: Heirloom Salad and Lobster Stuffed Mushroom Caps…. Salad was very average with somewhat mealy tomatoes and the mushroom caps were overpriced and average at best.

Side Dishes: The Creamed Spinach & Artichoke Pie is a gimmick…. and dominates the table. The Corn and Manchego gratin was well prepared and a solid dish.

Steaks: The Steak Oscar was average and included crabmeat that had a strong scent of the ocean…. This wasn’t fresh jumbo lump. Perhaps my days growing up in South Louisiana and dinners at Commander's Palace have jaded my view of all crabmeat? My companion had a steak from the ala carte menu that was prepared to her liking, but again, didn’t set the world on fire. I would say this flavor and grade of beef would rank a notch below craftsteak or Quality Meats.

Dessert: the menu looked decent (a lot of tableside flambé) but by this time, we wanted to bolt. It was an espresso and see ya later.

THE FINAL WORD: I love the Empire Hotel, the vibe, the rooftop bar, the locale. The addition of Center Cut is just bizarre. You can’t open a blah spot and think it can keep up with the hip vibe of the space that surrounds it. And oh yea, NYC doesn’t need more steakhouses. This could have been a real showcase spot for nearly any other type of store with a great menu…. So while I’m not putting it on Deathwatch, I would be shocked to see the store gain a loyal clientele when I can’t be seated within 30 minutes of a reservation I booked a month in advance. Additionally, as much as I like long meals, this night bordered on a hijacking. It was nearly 2.5 hours before the steak arrived, and so drawn out that I couldn’t wait to leave.

I'm still not a Chodorow hater.... I'd just like to go to dinner in New York at one of his restaurants and walk away saying.... wow.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

It's Time For King Cake

For Me, February Means Mardi Gras, Shrimp PoBoys and King Cake

Growing up in South Louisiana, I never knew how good I had it.

I mean I was already surrounded by great food and amazing culture, but Mardi Gras? Well, imagine an entire holiday centered around a dozen parties, 14 parades, 300 pounds of beads and all the food you can eat... and throw in a holiday from school (yes, Fat Tuesday is an official State holiday) and you have the world's greatest celebration.

And then there is the King Cakes.

King Cake and Mardi Gras go together like Red Beans and Rice. You simply can't get away from them during the Lenten season, and ever since I left my dear Louisiana, I've shipped them up to avoid withdrawals.

My very favorite King Cakes come from New Orleans... and an amazing bakery in Baton Rouge named Ambrosia. This bakery is arguably the best in Baton Rouge, and their King Cakes are out of this world.... and available for you to ship overnight.

What to Order?

I would highly recommend you order not one, but two. First, the fruit filled King Cake, with either Raspberry and Cream Cheese or Strawberry.... and last, the Pecan Praline which is sinful. Both come freshly shipped overnight and my guests devoured both last weekend, so I can attest – these are crowd pleasers.

To order your very own slice of heaven, click here. To learn even more about why we eat King Cakes, click here.

Happy Mardi Gras everyone...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today We Celebrate.... POPCORN!!

I Admit It, I Am An Addict

Today is National Popcorn Day, according to the Popcorn Board, which is good enough for me. They have a bunch of popcorn recipes here, along with history and FAQ's about the stuff. We can't live without popcorn. It's essential for the movies, of course. But it's also helpful when you're trying to lose weight (have you not tried the popcorn diet?). The Boy Scouts sell popcorn to raise money every year; their microwave popcorn is the best I ever had. Lest you pooh-pooh that, know that popcorn was the first food tested in a microwave oven. At Rio Mar in New Orleans, Chef Adolfo Garcia serves popcorn with the Panamanian isotope of his ceviche selection. He says that's traditional in Panama. Hell, I own a commercial popcorn machine and keep it in my apartment here in New York.

Popcorn has become such a popular snack in so many forms that a great deal of study has been applied to it. The most fascinating to me was explained by Orville Redenbacher, when he appeared on a radio show a long time ago. He said some kernels pop into something like mushrooms (rounded pieces) and others into what the industry calls butterflies, with "wings" curling away from the center. Orville, who did a lot of popcorn research, said that the mushrooms look better but the butterflies taste better.

Regardless, today we celebrate. I just love the stuff.

Delicious-Sounding Places
Popcorn, Indiana is in the southern part of Indiana, just north of the Grits Line. (That means the standard combination breakfast found in roadside cafes will include not grits, but hash browns.) It's also seventy-four miles southwest of Indianapolis. It's well out in the middle of farmland, which does indeed grow its namesake variety of maize. In fact, a company there has built a brand out of the town's name, and has a website telling about their corn and the history of the town. It is, of course, If popcorn doesn't satisfy your appetite, it's about a four-mile drive up Popcorn Church Road to Arthur's Corner Cafe in Springville.

Edible Dictionary
popcorn, n.--A variety of corn (maize) whose kernels have a center of soft, moist starch surrounded by hard starch. When the corn is heated, the moisture in the center heats beyond the boiling point of water, When it finally boils, it does so suddenly and completely, its gases expanding with such force (almost ten times normal atmospheric pressure) that it puffs up the hard starch and makes it blow out of the hull. The main tricks behind excellent popcorn for the growers is to let it dry until the hulls are hard, and growing the right variety of corn. Popcorn has been known for thousands of years, and was very familiar to Native Americans. It seems always to have been a source of delight and festivity.

Today's Cooking Tip: Don't let anybody tell you that better popcorn can be made in a pan than in a microwave oven. It was once true, but is no longer. Unless you have an industrial-strength popper.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Andre On The Go: LA Pt. 2

Where: Izaka- Ya by Katsu-Ya on 3rd Street

What: Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice

Rating: 9.5 This is the stuff. The original roll that started it
all.... Simply amazing. Also available at Koi in NYC.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Andre On The Road : LA

What: Buttery Belgian Waffle with Roasted Pecans

Where: The French Crepe Co. at The Farmers Market

Rating: 8.5 - truly relish. Every trip to LA must include a stop at
the market for breakfast!